It’s only been a very average day in the office for Vicki Neville, who has worked 20 years or so for Tasman Venture on the company’s whale-watching cruises out of Hervey Bay, on the Fraser Coast, just under 300 kilometres north of Brisbane.
She loves humpback whales and her job offers her a mixed bag in terms of excitement, from running the safety drills to helping the skipper spot whales to sometimes having the gentle giants ‘mug’ the boat, coming in so close that she can virtually reach out and touch them.
“They’re obviously as interested in us as we are in them,” says Vicki, who has starred in a National Geographic documentary called The Whale Whisperer.
“I’ve had cases of mothers pushing their young calves towards the boat to introduce them to me. When that happens it gets really exciting.”
That sort of encounter doesn’t happen today, but there’s certainly enough cetacean action to keep me and plenty of others on board quite ecstatic.
We seem to be surrounded by whales and they’re definitely showing off, providing us with more than enough rolling, breaching, splashing and diving to keep the cameras clicking.
Just about the whole of the Australian east coast provides opportunities to watch at least 30,000 whales make their way up and down the ‘humpback highway’ on their annual journey between the food-rich Antarctic and warmer waters where they have their young and also mate.
But there’s something special about Hervey Bay. The whales choose to stop there, in its warm and protected shallow waters, to take a bit of time out from their long and arduous journeys, to have a bit of fun and to teach their offspring a few of the finer points of swimming, diving and breathing. Remember, we’re dealing with mammals here, not fish, and they must surface to breathe or else they die.
And we’re fortunate enough to spend some time with a mother and her newly-born calf — estimated by Vicki as being only a week-or-so old, but already weighing in a nearly a tonne — going through their paces.
That encounter alone has made the excursion to Hervey Bay worthwhile, but meeting someone such as Vicki, who never seems at all jaded by 20 years of guiding visitors and spotting whales, has also been a huge plus.
Not that whale-watching is the only reason to visit Hervey Bay. Apart from being a pleasant location in its own right, it’s also a very attractive base for visiting Fraser Island, the historic city of Maryborough and the incredibly interesting eco-resort on Lady Elliot Island, the southernmost of the Great Barrier Reef coral cays. But they’re other stories that I promise to tell another day.
I stayed at Mantra Hervey Bay, overlooking the local marina, and at Oceans Resort and Spa, with its own stunning outlook over the bay towards the nearby Urangan Pier, which originally stretched to a length of 1107 metres but has these days been reduced to some 860 metres.
Both offer extremely high-standard, plush apartment-style accommodation, with the sort of kitchen facilities that could significantly cut holiday expenses by allowing you to dine-in rather than constantly having to fork out at restaurants.
And talking of restaurants, my experience, admittedly over only a couple of days and a couple of venues, was that chefs were struggling a bit to deliver the quality of food almost taken for granted in larger centre such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane … and that front-of-house were similarly hampered. Those kitchen facilities could come in very useful.
John Rozentals was a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland.